Although the Student Activities Council moratorium on new student group funding is still in effect, more than one third of outstanding debt among currently recognized groups has been repaid.
According to College senior and SAC Chair Melissa Roberts, just 26 SAC-recognized groups remain in over $100 of debt. At its last general body meeting on Sept. 26, SAC released a list of 48 student groups that had accumulated debt since September 2011.
A number of the groups that no longer owe SAC managed to get out of the red by bringing in enough revenue to cover their debt.
For example, Speech and Debate, the International Affairs Association and Mock Trial have all reported that while they were initially identified on SAC’s list of groups in debt, they have since received revenue owed to them and no longer have outstanding debt.
“It’s great that we’re getting repaid,” Roberts said. “At the same time, the ultimate idea of a debt plan would be that hopefully the penalties would be discouraging enough that groups would be on top of making sure they didn’t get into debt in the first place.”
As a result, SAC will be announcing a stricter debt policy at its upcoming GBM on Oct. 25. The new policy — which was outlined in a Daily Pennsylvanian guest column on Wednesday by Roberts and College senior and Undergraduate Assembly Treasurer Jake Shuster — will mandate larger budget cuts for more indebted groups. These penalties will include forcing more groups to have their SAC liaison co-sign reimbursements for expenses, which Roberts hopes will promote accountability.
For some groups, however, getting out of debt has not been so simple. Penn Masti was surprised when its SAC liaison notified the group’s board that it was in debt, College senior and Penn Masti President Trisha Sanghavi said.
“It didn’t make sense from our end because we were pretty sure that our account was balanced out,” Sanghavi said.
The group eventually determined that its Office of Student Affairs adviser had misallocated funds for costumes for one of its shows, and part of its budget had gone unused. Now, the group has a surplus instead, Sanghavi said.
Of the three groups that were listed as having more than $2,000 of debt at SAC’s September GBM, only one, Alternative Spring Break, remains in debt, according to Roberts. SAC has met with the group to develop a repayment plan.
“We’re going to monitor them closely and see how it works out,” Roberts said. “If they have the ability to raise money and pay back the debt, that’s in everyone’s best interest, because they can still exist and provide an outlet to the community. And we also get our money back.”
Roberts added that other groups now out of debt have discovered that an outside vendor had overcharged them for expenses, such as facilities rentals.
For instance, Penn Democrats Communications Director and College sophomore Zac Krowitz said his group’s reported debt was due to a “clerical error” by an external group that had helped it sponsor an event. After SAC released its list of indebted groups — which showed that Penn Dems owed more than $1,000 — Krowitz said the group worked with the external vendor to get the debt issue fixed.
“I think a lot of groups are finding that during the year they weren’t vigilant about watching what was in their account,” Roberts said. “It’s not like the SAC account is reporting it inaccurately; it’s that they weren’t keeping track of what should’ve been charged by other departments at the university or outside vendors.”
As a result, Roberts hopes that the new debt policy will more successfully prompt groups that are unsure about their debt status. SAC will begin sending out a monthly alert to all indebted groups and their respective SAC liaisons.
“Some groups just didn’t know they were in debt, so no matter what the penalties they wouldn’t have done anything differently,” she said.